Dino Ponsaran, 2015

PAHRODF Case Studies

Results Story 9:  Capacity-building in local government

Implementing and Applying Learning Principles

Dino Ponsaran, assistant division chief of the Department of the Interior and Local Government’s (DILG) Local Governance Capacity Development Program (LGCDP) Region 6, has been with the department for nine (9) years.  Selected as a recipient of Australia Awards Scholarships in 2013, he immediately realised upon his return that his department needed to do more to effectively deliver its mandate.

Tasked to supervise and give training and seminars to help local government units (LGUs) become more self-reliant, Dino explains that the LGDCP’s thrust is also to ultimately see improvement in the basic services delivered to constituents. However, looking back at what they provided before, he realised that their program lacked follow-through. “We just give information and then leave the local government units at that. We fail to help them apply what they learned,” he laments.

The opportunity to take further studies through Australia Awards Scholarships gave Dino a fresh perspective. In fact, the scholarship was a welcome surprise for him  as he never imagined himself as ‘scholar material’. Opting for a Masters in Public Policy at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, his intention was to acquire a wider view on the dynamics of western policy making and how he could translate this to the local setting.  This, he thought, would be particularly helpful as his work essentially involves helping LGUs formulate relevant policies.

Preparing his REAP (Re-entry Action Plan)prior to his stint in Australia, his original aim was to look into the impact of business permits and licenses as a result of his department’s thrust to push local economic development. With a focus on generating local employment, one of its objectives was to build business-friendly and competitive LGUs, so people, especially the poor, can find employment and the means to fend for themselves.

Upon his return however, Dino felt it necessary to revise his REAP.  Meant to apply his learnings to organisational gaps, Dino shifted to something immediately doable and achievable - the codification of local investment and incentive codes. Done with the help of his REAP supervisor who conceptualised the process and output, he says, “It is realistic and achievable because we can easily mainstream it to our operational plans and budget. Basically, the expected output is to enable local government units to codify their local investments and incentive codes.”

By going this route, Dino interestingly relates that in effect, the original plan to create a more business-friendly LGU, would have also been achieved. “For a local government unit to be considered business-friendly and competitive, one of the indicators is for that local government to have an investment and incentive code, hence the original goal is achieved after all, via a different route,” he justifies.

While work constraints were inevitable, with the approval of his regional director, Dino has begun the implementation of his revised REAP some seven months since his return. Further explaining the delay in his REAP implementation, Dino reveals, “It involves a lot of adjustments. On top of that is also the demands of my office – the bulk of the work I had to do. Implementing my REAP is a big challenge. I mean, trying to fit in the REAP implementation with my busy schedule and the bulk of my work that my office demands from me.”

He concedes though that the major challenge now is how to get ‘buy-ins’ from local chief executives (town mayors) outside of the tourist development areas since codification is not a priority for most of them. By the end of this year or early next, he is hopeful to get at least two ‘buy-ins’, with signed corresponding Memorandum of Agreements. “I am banking on the endorsement of my superiors,” he confides.

Before even implementing his new REAP, Dino had already sought the said endorsement addressed to local chief executives, from his very supportive regional director. His division chief is equally supportive, “being a scholar herself. She knows exactly the difficulty of implementing a REAP. So every time I ask for a little time off, like for example, to write some revisions or consult others about my REAP, she allows me,” Dino shares.

Other than the support of his superiors though, Dino is also confident that the effectiveness of his advocacy will see his REAP through. “I know it’s just a matter of explaining to them (the LGUs) the benefits of having this code. I also intend to ask local government units who already have it, about the impact and the good things they experienced from having implemented their local investment and incentive codes. This should be an inspiration to the other LGUs.”

Dino clarifies that his role is basically to guide and provide technical assistance to local functionaries in formulating and codifying their codes. This involves helping them as they go through their policy information processes, so codes can be drafted and adopted by their local “sanggunian” or local government council. Going back to the core objective of his REAP, he further elaborates, “By helping the local government unit to draft its investment and incentive codes, I am helping them create a business-friendly environment. That makes it easy for local and foreign investors to invest in the locality. And when you have lots of investments coming in, that means job opportunities. And when job opportunities are abundant, then people, especially the poor and the vulnerable who don’t have that access to, resources, will have the opportunity to support themselves.”

Although, there are two mandatory codes that need to be codified in order to create a business-friendly environment - the local investment and incentive code, and the revenue code, Dino has chosen to help out in the former as he feels this is where more attention is needed. “I chose to help LGUs codify their local investment and incentive codes because in region 6, only 54 of the 117 municipalities are able to codify their codes. And I chose to help LGUs outside the tourism development areas, because these LGUs do not have the support or the resources to do this. So I intend to help them,” he narrates.

He admits that the process of codifying is a laborious one, involving consultations with stakeholders, a careful study of national policies on trade and investments with a view to localize them, and considerable technical writing. “It is a long and involved process,” says Dino. He continues, “In the case of local investment and incentive codes, you have to consider different stakeholders like the businessmen, both local and foreign investors, and other people like the legislators and residents of the area. You have to look into the different opportunities, the economic potentials of the localities involved, and find ways and means to maximize these potentials and make the most of it, so that the people in the area are benefited by the business opportunities. You also have to match the codes to the priorities or thrusts of the local chief executive.”

He credits the learnings from his scholarship in helping him become more effective in his work and now his advocacy of codification. His professors, he says, were emphatic about applying principles.  “When I came back, I was giving capacity building interventions to local government units. The first thing I noticed was that our programme was just the orientation part, mere information giving. We do not go beyond that, we do not go deep enough.”  He continues, “My scholarship helped me realise that what is important is for the principles and ideas to be put into practice. So that is why every time I am given the opportunity to comment, or to give interventions, or to design an activity, I always make sure that I go beyond just information giving. I see to it that at the end of an intervention or capacity building activity, people who acquire skills are equipped with the know-how on what to do when they go back to their own respective local government units.”

“I have set my deliverables for this year. And I hope to be able to fully implement my REAP before the end of 2015,” he shares. The clock is ticking on his REAP timeline. Though he has had a belated start, he remains resolute that the work will be accomplished. And by accomplished, he is not just looking at transferring the know-how in terms of codification.  Dino also wants to ensure that the LGUs apply it, and apply it well.

Document Actions